Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

The Impact of Preceptor and Student Learning Styles on Experiential Performance Measures

Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

The Impact of Preceptor and Student Learning Styles on Experiential Performance Measures

Article excerpt


The diversity of learning types among students in pharmacy classrooms, laboratories, and practice experience sites presents challenges for pharmacy educators. Different educational backgrounds, life experiences, cultures, generations, and personal and professional interests vary with students. Learning environments are equally diverse and create additional struggles. Three examples of challenges pharmacy educators face are increases in classroom technology, increases in class size, and incorporation of distance learning to deliver curriculums. To address these challenges, it may be appropriate to assess both student and educator learning styles.

Although, defined in a number of ways, a well-accepted definition of learning styles is "characteristic cognitive, effective, and psychosocial behaviors that serve as relatively stable indicators of how learners perceive, interact with, and respond to the learning environment." (1) These have been evaluated in the literature by several different disciplines including engineering, pharmacy, nursing, allied health, and others. (2-17) Learning style instruments include the Kolb Learning Style Inventory, (18) Honey and Mumford's Learning Style Questionnaire, (19) and the commonly used Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. (20)

Of the instruments available, few have been validated or based on sound educational theory. (21) The Kolb Learning Style Inventory, has been studied in health professions students and categorizes learners by the way they prefer to acquire knowledge. (22) Based on this model, Austin worked with 40 pharmacists from varying disciplines to develop the Pharmacists Inventory of Learning Styles (PILS), a 17-item questionnaire specific to pharmacy. (23) Focus group workshops reviewed descriptors for learning styles that further identified 2 axes resulting in the foundation of the instrument. One axis is focused on unstructured vs. structured learning. Environments where the learning expectations and/or process are determined by the individual and not externally are unstructured, while environments where these expectations are defined externally are termed structured. The second axis focused on either doing or reflecting. Some individuals learn by trial and error and thus are the doers, while those who prefer to observe others and then practice to learn are termed reflectors. Based on these 2 axes, 4 categories of learning styles have been developed: assimilator, diverger, accommodator, and converger (Table 1). One unique aspect of the instrument is that it allows the determination of both dominant and secondary learning styles.

Forty-eight pharmacists evaluated the reliability and validity of PILS. Although the number of participants was small, Austin suggested the instrument possessed adequate reliability and validity to be used in discussion of pharmacy teaching processes. Austin also encouraged use of PILS in pharmacy education to further validate the instrument and increase discussion between preceptors and students.

Another interesting debate has been whether there needs to be alignment or "matching" between student and teacher when it comes to learning styles. Some evidence suggests that students may become disengaged or bored if their preferred learning style is not addressed. (2) Others argue that exposing students to learning styles with which they are not comfortable will challenge their learning and lead to a more productive educational experience. (24) Some educators/researchers contend that it should be the students' responsibility to adapt their learning style to their instructor's teaching style. Critics have suggested students are not prepared to adjust and may spend more time trying to manipulate or interpret the information rather than actually learning and applying it. (25)

To our knowledge, no published studies exist that examine learning styles in experiential learning and the effect this relationship may have on student or preceptor performance during pharmacy practice experiences. …

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